Lionel Messi is adored around the world not only for his sublime soccer skills, but also for the way he carries himself in public.
But the FC Barcelona star’s reputation could take a hit after Royston Drenthe accused him of repeatedly calling him "negro" after an on-field altercation.
The Telegraph reports Drenthe told a Dutch website that bad blood has existed between Messi and him for some time.
"I played against him many times and we always have problems with each other," Drenthe said. "You know what bothers me so? That tone with which he always says, ‘negro, negro.’
"I understand that ‘negro’ in South America is very common, but we can not stand it. Mahamadou Diarra, my team-mate at Real [Madrid], could explode if ‘negro’ was aimed at him. The Argentinean Gabriel Heinze and Gonzalo Higuain said it initially on the training ground, but they were stopped."
"When Hércules played Barcelona, during the game I had a small altercation with him. He gave me a hand in the match and again said a few times, ‘hola negro’."
Drenthe, 25, is a Dutch player whose family hails from the South American country of Suriname. His rights are owned by Real Madrid, but he failed to make the grade at the Spanish giant. He has had loan spells at Hercules and Everton in the last two seasons.
Neither Messi nor Barcelona have commented on the allegation. It can be potentially explosive, as the Argentine star is the reigning FIFA Ballon D’or winner and millions look up to him.
It also has parallels with the case of Liverpool star Luis Suarez, who was fined and banned after he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra by an FA panel.